Position Statement and Theological Reflection on Mass Incarceration

Position Statement on Mass Incarceration
Arizona Faith Network
Theological Dialogue Commission

ep: 5/31/19

The faith traditions represented by the Arizona Faith Network, AFN, affirm the basic dignity and worth of each human individual and call for reform of a legal system that results in the mass incarceration of persons in the United States. Our faiths tell us that God, as understood in each of our faith traditions, is concerned with the well-being of all persons regardless of gender, race, ability, and/or economic standing, and is merciful and forgiving. Our combined scriptures speak of God as One who seeks to restore relationship and community, is merciful, and punishes in order to bring transformation and renewal, not out of revenge. We understand our own moral imperative to be imitation of these characteristics of the Divine.

Over the past 10 years, many reports across multiple political sectors demonstrate that the United States has the highest incarceration rate of any nation. These studies of the Criminal Justice Systems on the local, state, and national levels have identified the role that poverty and racism play in: who is incarcerated, for how long, and with what long-term economic impact on whole communities. See for example the recent report by the Prison Policy Initiative called Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2019, Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner. We are appalled that 76% of persons in American jails have not been convicted of any crime, but are awaiting trial, including initial hearings, because they are too poor to post bail. Our faith traditions explicitly call upon us to seek justice - in the broader sense of the word, ironic in this case - for the poor and oppressed. Statistical assessment of jail and prison populations has highlighted the disproportionate rate at which persons of color are incarcerated across the system. Our holy texts decry racism and social control by those with economic or hierarchal power. Thirdly, the data overwhelming shows that persons who have fulfilled their sentences and are released from prison or jail have little to no support enabling them to successfully re-enter society. Our faith traditions remind us that God is merciful and seeks restoration of all persons, calling us to reconciliation and restoration also.

AFN supports and engages calls for reforms of the policies establishing mandatory sentencing, bail, and the for-profit prison industry. We invite our faith communities into reflection and action on these topics. AFN offers the following Theological Reflection on Mass Incarceration as a starting point for prayerful/meditative consideration of the issues. AFN’s Smart Justice Cafés provide venues for conversations on how persons of faith can engage for reform.

[click here for a downloadable PDF of the Position Statement and Theological Reflection]


Theological Reflection on Mass Incarceration
Arizona Faith Network
Theological Dialogue Commission

ep: 6/18/19

Our faith traditions encourage us to be imitators of the character of the Divine (For an example from the Christian Tradition see the Bible, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Eph.5:1) and to live our lives after the moral imperatives conveyed through our holy scriptures and sacred texts. Our faith traditions affirm that God, however we understand God, is merciful (The Qu’ran, 1:1), and abundantly pardons (TANAKH and NRSV, Is. 55:7). Care for those who are “the poor, the widow and the oppressed, [the differently-abled], and the captives” runs through our sacred texts. Forgiveness and mercy characterizes the Divine (The Bible Ex. 32:32, Matt. 18:35; The Qu’ran 1:1), and is “a virtue of the righteous” (the words of Bahá’u’lláh in the Gleanings) within our faith traditions (See also Alag, 146). These character traits should guide people of faith as they examine the current situation of the U.S. legal system and work for criminal legal reform. Overwhelmingly, our scriptures speak of God as One who seeks to restore relationship and community, is merciful, and punishes in order to bring transformation and renewal. “This letter [The Path of Eloquence of Ali to Malik] …demonstrates the centrality of justice and equity as well as forgiveness and compassion for a good government according to the traditional Islamic perspective” [Nasr, 249]. Current statistics identify areas where our faith traditions call us to engage in criminal legal reform: poverty, racism, and the role of incarceration as a mechanism of social control rather than a means of restoration. Current calls for reforms of the policies establishing mandatory sentencing, for-profit prisons, the Big Business industries that support all prisons and jails, and the role of charge selection by prosecutors offer areas for reflection and action by all persons of faith.

A recent report by the Prison Policy Initiative called Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2019 by Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner pulls together statistics across federal, state, and local jails and prisons, facilities on Native American land, immigration detention facilities and civil commitment centers. The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation in the world. In 1972, the U.S held less than 200,000 persons in prisons and jails. As of 2018, more than 2.2 million persons are in prisons and jails. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of its prisoners. Even on a per capita basis, the US is the highest, at 698/100,000 [Sawyer 2]. Persons are held in 1,719 state prisons, 109 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories. [Sawyer, 1]. Of that number, approximately only half are held for any form of violent crime.  “Despite reforms, drug offenses are still a defining characteristic of the federal system” at 81,000 [Sawyer, 5] and responsible for 500,000 incarcerations across the system.”  Police make 1 million drug related arrests per year and possession arrests are 6 times those for drug sales [Sawyer, 16]. Many have reported on the disparate percentages of persons of color in American jails and prisons, recently, most notably Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow.

Most stunningly, 76% of people held by jails are not convicted of any crime [Sawyer, 2]. They are incarcerated while awaiting trial, including initial hearings. So called “jail churn” is also a concern. “Every year, over 600,000 people enter prison gates, but people go to jail 10.6 million times each year. Jail churn is particularly high because most people in jails have not been convicted. Some have just been arrested and will make bail within hours or days, while many others are too poor to make bail and remain behind bars until their trial. Only a small number (less than 150,000 on any given day) have been convicted, and are generally serving misdemeanors sentences under a year” [Sawyer, 7].

Poverty

Pretrial policies drive jail growth. In the U.S. jail system, 540,000 individuals are locked up but have not been convicted or sentenced because they cannot pay the bail fee.  Average bail is $10,000 or the equivalent of 8 months income for a typical person detained because they cannot pay bail. Many of the persons in prisons and jails today come from families living under the U.S. poverty level. “Pretrial detention is responsible for all of the net jail growth in the past 20 years” [Sawyer, 9]. Bazelon also notes that certain behavior is criminalized (contrasted with misdemeanors) such as fare-beating and turnstile jumping, that penalize the poor. The “get tough on crime” mindset has on-going economic impacts as well. First, databases used by employers, college admissions, etc., track arrests not convictions [Sawyer, 13]. As many persons have criminal records as have graduated from 4 year colleges (Friedman, Matthew, truthout.org).  An arrest record, whether followed by a conviction or not, can affect a person’s employability for the rest of his or her life. “People in prison and jail are disproportionately poor compared to the overall U.S. population…Poverty is not only a predictor of incarceration; it is also frequently the outcome, as a criminal record and time spent in prison destroys wealth, creates debt, and decimates job opportunities” [Sawyer, 15-6]. “Felon disenfranchisement laws have diluted the already minimal political power of these communities” [Stevenson, 339]. Secondly, there are little to no post-incarceration services that enable an individual to re-enter the community. We have all heard the stories of jails opening the door and putting the released person on the street with no money and only the clothes on her or his back. They are true.

Our faith traditions speak strongly of our obligations towards persons in poverty. The primary Hebrew term for the poor translates more fully as “needy and without power.” Our joint Scriptures spend by far the largest proportion of their texts devoted to confrontation of poverty and oppression. The role of government was to protect the poor (Proverbs 31:1-8).  Theologians across faith traditions write that human responsibility to meet the needs of the poor reflects the very character of God. The Divine One is described as hearing the cries of the poor in many of our sacred texts.  Persons who care for the poor are called blessed in Psalm 41:2. For Latter-day Saints attending to the needs of the poor is service to God (Matthew 25:31-40). Those who have funds are expected to be a “source of strength for the weak, the helpless, hapless, and the shelterless” [Alag, 17]. One element of poverty is it removes personal power, it makes individuals helpless within the legal system. Those without the money to pay $10,000 bail fee, end in prison sometimes for extended periods of time, regardless of the severity of their crime, their likelihood of not appearing for their trial, or their ultimate guilt. With regard to re-entry into the community after release, our faith traditions also insist that we enable those returning to our communities to fully function within them. “According to Jewish law, the highest form of charity is to ensure that a person not need it, at least not for more than a short period” [Telushkan, 11]. [Wealth is] “…something entrusted to them by Allah…and Zakat [charity] stimulates the flow of money through the economy at all levels… ” [The Basics of Islam at a Glance, 18], (Qu’ran 57.7). The Sikh term, “co-sharing” wealth, [Alag, 29] assures there are resources available for all [Alag, 146]. Many studies of recidivism demonstrate compellingly that economic disenfranchisement is a key cause of re-entry into the prison system. See also A Theological View of Poverty on the Arizona Faith Network website.

How can persons of faith engage with elements of the criminal legal system that oppress the poor? Study and understand legislation that seeks to reform the bail system. Many of our shared scriptures include the promise that the Divine brings release to the captives (Is. 42:6-7, Is. 62:1, Ps. 146:7, Luke 4: 18-19).  Participate in re-entry programs within your local community. One example is the 700+ members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who are volunteering to share friendship and backpacks of supplies and food, short-term housing, and employment counseling with inmates. Attend one of AFN’s Smart Justice Café programs.   

Racism

“Most people in prison are poor, and the poorest are women and people of color.” [Sawyer, 36] Most are below the US poverty line. Persons of color often face greater rates of poverty. The disparity is greatest among Black Americans but can be seen in other groups as well.

Mass Incarceration table.gif

“Historically, mass incarceration has its roots right after the Emancipation Proclamation and during Reconstruction, with what is known as the “Black Codes” -- legislation that criminalized blackness with things like vagrancy laws. Blackness in and of itself became criminalized, and that led to the convict leasing system. You had people who were incarcerated, working for people who owned them just months prior” [Gilliard, 6].

“The same is true for women, whose incarceration rates have for decades risen faster than men’s, and who are often behind bars because of financial obstacles such as an inability to pay bail”   [Sawyer, 30-1]. The Type of Offense data also demonstrate that the types of offenses that have been criminalized skew prosecution towards persons of color. For example, many return to prison for what are considered “technical offenses” associated with violations of probation or parole, not for new offenses. This is especially true for the 63,000 youth in confinement in the United States. “Too many are [confined] for a “most serious offense” that is not even a crime. For example, there are over 8,100 youth behind bars for technical violations of their probation, rather than for a new offense. An additional 2,200 youth are locked up for “status” offenses, which are behaviors that are not law violations for adults, such as running away, truancy, and incorrigibility. [Sawyer, 25] New work by Bazelon also demonstrates the role of the prosecutor in selecting the charge to be brought before the court. Bazelon reports that more than 90% of cases end in plea bargains that give even more power to prosecutors. She discusses 2 ancillary issues associated with the prosecution portion of the legal system. The first, confirmation bias, is the tendency to seek and interpret information such that it confirms a previously held belief, such as implicit racism. Secondly, institutional pressures reward conviction rates rather than appropriate application of sentencing.  Both of these elements lead to bias in the charges brought against alleged perpetrators.

Racism is antithetical to our Faith Traditions’ sacred texts and historic teachings. The founder of Bahá’i, Bahá’u’lláh, said, “Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other…” [Sobhani, 18]. Abrahamic faith traditions understand that there is something that reflects the Divine One in every person. “Because people are created in God’s image, all human life has special value” [Telushkin, 261]. The founder of Quakerism, George Fox, said, “There is that of God in everyone.” The Sanskrit word Namaste, means “the Divine in me acknowledges and greets the Divine in you.” The Sikh Tradition states, “God resides in all, therefore every individual is linked to the other by the ties of mutual co-operation and co-existence. We are tied with other with an invisible string is this in the hands of God ‘In all selves art Thou abiding. In Thee are all sharers; to none dost Thou appear alien’ (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, 97)” [Alag, 21-22]. Allah said in the Quran, ‘O people, We have created you male and female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. Verily, the most noble of you to Allah is the most righteous of you. Verily, Allah is knowing and aware.’ Quran (49:13). “Racism ascribes false values to human difference. Therefore, it is inherently sinful. The true evil of racism gives license to the use of power to dominate others” [The Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, 1]. See also Faiths’ Response to Racism on the AFN website.

How can persons of faith engage with elements of the criminal legal system that oppress persons of color? Study and understand legislation that seeks to reform mandatory sentencing. Explore the fwd.us website for information on criminal justice reform and immigration reform legislation. Contact the African American Christian Clergy Coalition for information about bills currently before the AZ legislature. Applaud and support the internal activities of associations of prosecutors who are seeking to eliminate bail for many non-violent offense charges, changing the classification of some offenses from criminal to misdemeanors. Elect District Attorneys who support these changes.  Address the School to Prison Pipeline that funnels young people of color into the criminal justice system. Participate in AFN programs such as Smart Justice Café programs and calls for action in its Mission Focus Topic, Criminal Legal Reform.

Justice vs. Revenge

There are four models of incarceration:

Retribution (punish the perpetrator) - revenge driven,
Rehabilitative (reform/modify the behavior of the perpetrator),
Restrictive (restrain the perpetrator in order to protect society),
Restorative (create reconciliation between the perpetrator, the victims, and society).

Much of the current US criminal justice system sentencing approach is based on the first, punishment. While some convicted offenders are so violent that they do need to be removed from the community as a whole, at least for some period of time, that restrictive aspect of incarceration does not have to be predicated on a punishment model.

Mandatory Sentencing emerged from the “Get Tough on Crime” and “War on Drugs” policies of the 1980’s and 1990’s. Playing on white middle class fears, many of these penalties were meant by their harshness to serve both as punishment of the offender and as a deterrent to others. While they have done the former, current studies indicate that they do not serve as deterrents for other persons who might be potential offenders. Economic drivers are the most critical for non-violent crime. Studies show that even murder is most frequently driven by emotional responses rather than rational decisions. In addition, the War on Drugs has incarcerated 6 times the number of persons for possession as for selling drugs, and the drug crises of today includes the misuse of prescription drugs, which are not inherently illegal. 

Our faith traditions and sacred texts affirm that the punishment should fit the crime. The oldest law code, Hammurabi’s from the 2nd millennium before the common era, limits punishment to “an eye for an eye,” rather than the death penalty for stealing bread. Other examples of the concept can be found in TANKH, Ex. 21:23-27, NRSV Luke 6:38-46, and the Qu’ran 16:126 for example. These texts address our human tendencies for escalation and revenge.  The repetition of the word Justice in the Hebrew Torah, “Justice, Justice you shall pursue” (Deut. 16:20) “is not only for emphasis, but signifies that just ends must be reached by just means” [Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman, email dated 4/13/2019].  “Clarence Jordan has pointed out that the Greek for “evil” can mean either “by evil means” or “the evil person.” Either translation is equally good according to Greek grammar; the decision must come from the context. The context is that Jesus repeatedly confronts evil, but never by evil means, and never by means of revengeful violence. Therefore, the context favors the instrumental “Do not resist by evil means.”  [Stassen, 138].  “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all” (NRSV, 1 Thes. 2:15; similarly, Luke 6:22-36, Romans 12:15-19). The Qu’ran says, “They give food, in spite of the love for it, to the needy, the orphan and the prisoner.” “Shall I inform you of a better act than fasting, alms, and prayers? Making peace between one another: enmity and malice tear up heavenly reward by the roots.” [Prophetic Hadith in Nasr, 238]. The Hadith reports that the Prophet, Peace be upon Him, said, “I enjoin you to treat the captive well.” So the question for persons of faith is whether prison acts to “do good to” or to “love” the prisoner? “No religious group which takes its values seriously should rest content until (we) demand and get a system which will correct and not merely punish, rehabilitate and not debilitate, which will treat prisoners and not merely stigmatize them, which will regard them as human beings whom we must strive to restore to usefulness and not as open targets for social vengeance” [Vorspan, 203]. “The Quran warns Muslims, in no uncertain terms when it states, “Let not hatred of a people cause you to be unjust” (5:8). Grievance can turn to anger and hatred, but that cannot be the basis of blind revenge” [Nasr, 263]. This goes beyond rehabilitative justice to restorative justice. The focus of our faith traditions is on restoration of relationship and community for the victim and victim’s family, the offender, and the offender’s family, and the community itself.

Mass incarceration has also reduced the amount of support available for individuals when they have completed their sentence. There is little to no governmental system to help persons re-enter society. “Confinement is just one piece of the larger system of correctional control. There are another 840,000 people on parole and a staggering 3.6 million people on probation. Given the onerous conditions of probation and the steep consequences for technical violations, policymakers should be wary of “alternatives to incarceration” that can easily lead to incarceration for people who pose no threat to public safety” [Sawyer, 30]. A staggering 1 in 4 Americans has a criminal record. “Technical violations are the main reason for incarceration of people on parole or probation, not new crimes” [Sawyer, 22]. However, in the conversation about criminal legal reform and mass incarceration, the term “justice” tends to take on the singular meaning of punishment. The Pew Charitable Trust reports, “…all states have become more punitive. Even though overall crime and arrest rates are down from the early 1990s, states are exacting sentences at a rate 165 times harsher than they were for the same crimes previously. Prosecutors now seek felony charges after an arrest much more frequently than they did even a decade ago” [Stetzer, 2].

However, in our faith traditions, the words translated justice (and in English too, for that matter) all convey a much broader range of meaning:

1.      Deliverance of the poor and powerless from the injustice that they regularly experience,
2.      lifting the foot of domineering power off the neck of the dominated and oppressed,
3.      stopping the violence and establishing peace, and
4.      restoring the outcasts, the excluded, the exiles, and the refugees to community.
[see for example Stassen 349].

The Hebrew words tsedaqah (deliverance and community restoring justice) and mishpat (vindication of the rights, especially of the poor and powerless) and the Greek word dikaios (action or legal decision which vindicates or establishes the right) all include these broader concepts of justice that go beyond punishment. Micah 6:8 (TANAKH and NRSV) links doing justice with steadfast love. The Qu’ran addresses this broader meaning of justice in Sura 5 for example; “O believers, be steadfast before God, witness for Justice (Q5:8)” and “God loves the just (Q5:42).” Bahá’u’lláh said, “The light of men is justice. Quench it not with the contrary winds of oppression and tyranny” [Sobhani, 43]. In fact, imprisonment as punishment does not occur in the Hebrew Torah. It did not exist as punishment in Roman law. “Although these are transgressions against God, repentance is accepted and the Hadith strongly limits the application of hudûd, as we also see in the case of Jewish Law” [Nasr, 152].

Therefore, people of faith are called upon to do justice on behalf of prisoners by caring for them during their incarceration rather than warehousing them, and for caring nurture as they re-enter the community upon their release from incarceration. “Restoration, not punishment, is at the heart of God’s justice…Divine justice is restorative and reconciling, not retributive and isolating. And the restorative nature of God’s justice is woven throughout Scripture. God works amid brokenness, restoring victims, communities and offenders” [Gilliard, 2]. All our faith traditions affirm that the criminal, too, is a human being and that transformation of all persons is possible (TANKH and NRSV Ez. 3:11; The Qu’ran, 8:70). “With all other forms of punishment, the individual suffers the penalty, is cleansed of his sin, and is then restored to freedom where he is expected to resume a productive life in the making of a more G‐dly world. As a prisoner, however, one is denied the freedom to fulfill his divinely ordained mission, and hence, his reason for living. To allow one to live and yet to deprive him of living, is inhumane” [Schneerson, 18].  “Remember the humanity of prisoners and how to uphold the rights of those who have wronged us and most importantly, the ability for reform, tawbah, is always there” [Nsour, 3].

How can persons of faith engage with restorative justice? Find ministries within your own faith community with which to participate, such as the Buddhist organization Compassion Works for All, the Presbyterian Church’s Prison Partnership Program, and the Ministry to Arizona Correctional Facilities by the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Read and engage with your faith tradition’s statement on restorative justice. A partial listing is included in the references below.

Capital Punishment

Since this reflection is focused on reforms of mass incarceration, the issue of capital punishment is not addressed in depth. However, many of our faith traditions have taken formal positions against capital punishment.

How can persons of faith engage with the issue of capital punishment? Read and engage with your faith tradition’s statement on capital punishment.

The Big Business of Incarceration

“Private prisons are most often situated in sparsely populated rural communities that need jobs and economic revitalization. So when you bring a private prison, you bring jobs. The prison has a contract that dictates bed minimums, which range from 70 percent occupancy every night to 100 percent occupancy. In Arizona, they have three private prisons that require 100 percent bed occupancy every night. If you have unoccupied cells within the facility, you’re in violation of the contract and the private prison company can sue the community. That has happened.” [Gilliard, 6].

Although some states have more private prisons than others, in 2016 Arizona ranked third in the nation for the number of prisoners incarcerated in private prisons, 8,285 [sentencingproject.org]. Nonetheless, less than 8% of all incarcerated people are held in private prisons; the vast majority are in publicly owned prisons and jails. [Sawyer, 6]. However, the issue is that the private prison industry has lobbied to maintain high levels of incarceration. In addition to contract fees if 100% occupancy is not maintained, most prisons - public and private - rely on the labor of incarcerated people for various in-house operations, and they pay incarcerated workers far below the minimum wage. Sawyer et al report that on average, incarcerated people earn between 86 cents and $3.45 per day for the most common prison jobs and many states pay nothing at all. Workers who are incarcerated have few protections. “Forcing people to work for low or no pay and no benefits allows prisons to shift the costs of incarceration to incarcerated people – hiding the true cost of running prisons from most Americans” [Sawyer, 20]. In addition private industries and public agencies profit from the overall prison system - public and private. Contracts for food and health services, telecom, and commissary is a multibillion dollar business with no public oversight. “By privatizing services like phone calls, medical care and commissary, prisons and jails are unloading the costs of incarceration onto incarcerated people and their families, trimming their budgets at an unconscionable social cost” [Sawyer, 18]. Many city and county jails rent space to other agencies, including state prison systems, the U.S. Marshals Service, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Our sacred texts abhor those who profit from the misfortunes of others and oppress the poor, the weak, and the disenfranchised for economic gain. “The Islamic, and more generally the Semitic, concept of law, which is associated with the Will of God and is meant to determine society rather than be determined by it…” [Nasr, 115]. The Abrahamic faiths understand that God created all humans in God’s own image, tzelem Elokim in Hebrew, therefore, maintaining human dignity is a foundational principle for our faiths. “Know thou that all men have been created in the nature made by God [from the Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh in Sobhani, 41]. Right Vocation, the Fifth element of the Buddhist Eightfold Noble Path starts, “One must not engage in any business or profession that involves cruelty or injustice to either men or animals” [Goddard, 648]. Even those who act unjustly require just treatment.

How can persons of faith engage with the Big Business of Incarceration? Ask about oversight commissions on prisoner fees, such as telephone and food, request reports on prisoner employment and remuneration, and continue to advocate for the reduction of private prisons within the state of Arizona and nationally.

CONCLUSION

Starting in the 1990s, the “get tough on crime” policies in America resulted in building a new prison every two weeks. While violent crime has decreased by 51 percent 1991-2019, property crime is down by 43+ percent, and overall crime rate is less than half of its 1991 numbers, nonetheless spending on jails and prisons reached nearly $81 billion in 2010. Today, nearly 7 million people are incarcerated, on probation, or on parole in the U.S.  With the escalation of numbers has come escalation of abuses. People of faith are called to participate in the processes that will lead to reform of the entire system.  The Arizona Faith Network invites persons of all faith traditions to participate in AFN’s Mission Focus Topic, Criminal Legal Reform.

CITATIONS FROM SACRED TEXTS

Ahamed, Syed Vickar, translator. The English Translation of the Message of the Quran. (Lombard: Book of Signs Foundation) 2006.

Alag, Sarup Singh. Some Universal Sayings from Sri Guru Granth Sahib. (India: Alag Shabad Yug Trust) 35.

Goddard, Dwight. A Buddhist Bible (Boston: Beacon Press) 1994.

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.

Sobhani, Mouhebat. Bahá’i: Teachings for a New World Order (New York: Waldorf) 1992.

TANAKH: The New translation of the HOLY SCRIPTURES According to the Traditional Hebrew Text. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society) 1985.

Unal, Ali. The Qur’an with Annotated Interpretation in Modern English (Somerset: Tughra Books) 2008.

REFERENCES

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Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press) 2010.

American Baptist Churches. Policy Statement on Criminal Justice, Adopted by the General Board of the American Baptist Churches - December 1983. (General Board Reference #7034:12/83)

Archives of The Episcopal Church, Office of Government Relations. Research Report: Policy Advocacy on Criminal Justice. June 6, 2018.

_____. Resolution Number: 2015-A011. Title: Urge Advocacy for Policy Changes to End Mass Incarceration Practices. Legislative Action Taken: Concurred as Substituted and Amended. Acts of Convention 2015.

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Nsour, Rami. Islam and Muslims in the U.S. Prison System. https://www.taybafoundation.org/2016/islam-and-muslims-in-the-u-s-prison-system-by-rami-nsour/

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Sawyer, Wendy and Peter Wagner. Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2019. March 19, 2019. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2019.html

Schlabach, Rachelle Lyndaker. A First Step for Criminal Justice Reform. February 25, 2019. https://mcc.org/stories/first-step-criminal-justice-reform

Schneerson, Rabbi Menachem Mendel quoted in Insights No 12 Summer 1996.

The Sentencing Project https://www.sentencingproject.org/

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Stassen, Glenn H. and David P. Gushee. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (Downers Grove: IVP) 2003.

Stetzer, Ed. The Biblical Call for Justice: Mass Incarceration and the Role of the Church. April 14, 2019.

Stevenson, Bryan A. “Confronting Mass Imprisonment and Restoring Fairness to Collateral Review of Criminal Cases,” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review Summer 2006. 339-367. https://eji.org/reports/confronting-mass-imprisonment

Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph. A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume. 2: Love Your Neighbor As Yourself (New York: Bell Tower) 2009.

Unitarian Universalist Church in American. Criminal Justice and Prison Reform:

2005 Statement of Conscience https://www.uua.org/print/action/statements/criminal-justice-and-prison-reform

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, Office of Domestic Social Development. Criminal and Restorative Justice and Sentencing Reform. CSMG January, 2016

Van Ness, Daniel W. The Role of the Church in Criminal Justice Reform. Justice That Restores Forum. Orlando, FL. 14-16 March 2002.

Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. Faith Statements on Restorative Justice. https://www.virginiainterfaithcenter.org/issues/criminal-justice/faith-statements/

Vorspan, Albert. Great Jewish Debates and Dilemmas (New York: Union Theological) 1980. 203.

Yes, U.S. locks people up at a higher rate than any other country https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/07/07/yes-u-s-locks-people-up-at-a-higher-rate-than-any-other-country/

Winter, Jesse. A Criminal Justice System. October 8, 2015. https://blog.brethren.org/2015/a-criminal-justice-system/

 

WEB BASED REFERENCES - Racism

https://ag.org/Beliefs/Topics-Index/Racism (Assemblies of God)

The Black Theology Project https://btpbase.org/

“Becoming the Beloved Community Where You Are.” https://www.episcopalchurch.org/racial-reconciliation

The Council of National Black Churches https://www.thecnbc.net/

https://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Publicly-Engaged-Church/Racial-Justice-Ministries (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)

https://www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Race-Ethnicity-and-Culture

The Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. An Anti-Racism Theological Statement. Diocesan Anti-Racism Committee. Phoenix, July 2013.

https://www.episcopalchurch.org/racial-reconciliation (Episcopal Church)

Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development. Office of Domestic Social Development, the Roman Catholic Church. Racism: Confronting the Poison in our Common Home. (Washington: #csmg2016) January 2016.

Horan, Daniel P. “Examining Our Social Sins” in https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2015/02/11/examining-our-social-sins February 23, 2015.

http://mennoniteusa.org/what-we-do/undoing-racism/ (Mennonite Church)

Moore, R. York, Race in America: Corporate Repentance, and the Cross We Collectively Must Bear https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2016/october/race-in-america-corporate-repentance-and-cross-we-collectiv.html

“National Church Dialogue on Anti-Racism” in Province I Convocation of the Episcopal Church. Racial Justice: How do we get there from here? 2001

New Catholic Encyclopedia, COPYRIGHT 2003 The Gale Group Inc. https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/social-sin

https://oca.org/news/headline-news/assembly-of-bishops-responds-to-racist-violence-in-charlottesville-va (Orthodox Church in America)

https://facing-racism.pcusa.org/ (Presbyterian Church in the USA)

https://reconciliationministry.org/who-we-are/the-initiative/ (Disciples of Christ)

https://reformjudaism.org/jewish-views-civil-rights

Theological Declaration on Christian Faith and White Supremacy, https://www.redletterchristians.org/theological-declaration-on-christian-faith-white-supremacy/

Unity Declaration on Racism and Poverty Letter to the United States Congress, January 31, 2018. https://bread.org/sites/default/files/downloads/circle-of-protection-unity-statement.pdf

https://www.ucc.org/justice_racism (United Church of Christ)

http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/what-the-church-says-racism (United Methodist Church)

http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/racism/index.cfm (US Council of Catholic Bishops)

https://www.uua.org/action/statements/toward-anti-racist-unitarian-universalist-association (Unitarian Universalist)

Support for Increased Renewable Energy and Energy Standards

TO: Chairman Burns and Commissioners
FROM: Arizona Faith Network
RE: Docket #RU-00000A-18-0284, Arizona Faith Network’s Support for Increased Renewable Energy and Energy Standards 

Dear Chairman Burns and Commissioners:

Arizona Faith Network is a non-profit, multi-faith organization dedicated to bringing people together to promote peace and understanding through interfaith education and dialogue as well as healing of the world through collaborative action.  Our partners include both faith-based and secular social justice organizations that share our vision for peaceful, prosperous and sustainable communities, and we believe that a healthy environment is fundamental to achieving those goals.

We understand that the Arizona Corporation Commission will be voting soon to decide whether utility companies will be required to invest in clean energy strategies such as renewable energy sources and energy efficiency techniques. AFN strongly urges you to support increased investments in both. Not only are renewable energy and energy efficiency the cheapest options available right now, they also help control utility costs, create jobs and build a clean energy future. Further, they prevent the air and water pollution that affect the quality of life for children with asthma, adults who are at risk of lung disease and the well-being of poorer and more marginalized populations whose neighborhoods are disproportionately impacted by emissions from dirty energy sources. 

We are also concerned that, with the rising costs of fossil fuels, people living on the margins will be unable to afford to pay their energy bills. In a state where summertime energy costs strain the pocketbooks of people with stable incomes, those who are financially insecure will be unable to pay for the air conditioning they need to survive Arizona’s sweltering summer temperatures. Renewables are the answer to this dilemma, and we must act to accelerate that transition.

Our Arizona Corporation Commissioners are elected to protect the interests of customers, and we are asking you to do just that—to use every tool at your disposal to contain energy costs and provide the services your customers depend on.  This means requiring utilities to increase their investment in clean, renewable sources of energy and emphasizing energy efficiency. Aspirations are not enough; they must be held accountable for their choices. We believe that only strong and progressive mandates from the Corporation Commission will incentivize utilities to move toward a sustainable energy future.

We hope the ACC will seriously consider our concerns and act to develop and strengthen rules that will move our state into an era of clean and affordable energy for all.

Very Truly Yours,

Rev. Katie Sexton
Executive Director
Arizona Faith Network

AFN Statement on Government Shutdown

The Arizona Faith Network commends all political leaders who are seeking a just and immediate end to the government shutdown. Our religious faiths compel us to condemn actions that serve only political ends, keeping thousands of people from working and requiring others to work without receiving their pay--conditions that create food and housing insecurity, financial and emotional stress.

This past week marked the first time the majority of these workers missed a paycheck. Agencies that provide important services have been operating through piece-meal funding and are now out of funds. SNAP funds are likely to run short in February. If the shutdown is not ended soon, Medicare and other cuts will likely occur.

Our families, friends and neighbors deserve better. We need good faith negotiations and compromises in the best interests of all Americans. Please contact the White House and your legislators in both the House and Senate and ask for immediate bi-partisan action to end the government shutdown.

Arizona Faith Network
Board of Directors

Transformational Courage for the Common Good

In the wake of what has been a very divisive election campaign season, Arizona Faith Network (AFN) reaches out to our community with a prophetic message of hope. Regardless of political outcomes, a fundamental principle of AFN since its inception—one of the main reasons we exist—is that we understand the transformative power of promoting respectful dialogue, decency in our communications with others, and civil discourse. We honor diverse opinions and seek to be respectful of each other no matter the faith tradition, political or social orientation, gender, race or ethnicity. Our prayer is that we would see this same spirit, this same principle, promoted throughout our community, state and nation.

We stand for a society in which we learn to listen to one another and hear each other’s needs, hopes, dreams and aspirations, without necessarily standing in agreement. We want most of all to be open to reflecting different perspectives in our being together, talking together and acting together. There is real transformative power when people who come from different perspectives can come together for the common good.

AFN believes that by taking the time to be together, listen to one another and reason together, we might not change each other’s opinions, but we might just find a soft wind that will mitigate our prejudices and shed a light of truth on our ideologies. We believe that we can, through respectful dialogue, come to a place where we can see beyond our own prejudices and judge our actions based on societal good.

So we all have some learning, some reflecting to do—the right to make choices and the responsibility to ensure those choices consider the common good. It takes courage, especially at a time when prevailing forces would suggest otherwise. But this approach—agreeing to try to live by this fundamental principle of civility—can benefit us all, our children and generations to come. We invite you to join us in this journey.

Send your thoughts to ContactUs@azfaithnetwork.org

Family Separation is Not a Family Value

Arizona Faith Network stands in solidarity with people of faith and moral strength all across the nation against the unconscionable treatment of migrant children by the current administration in separating children from their parents. To date, over 2,300 acts of “cruelty by separation” have been committed against migrant children along the U.S. southern border. Although we strongly agree to the need for secure borders, we know that as Americans, we are better than this ….  We are a nation that espouses family values and we do everything we can to keep children from harm.

Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not,
For of such is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 19:14

Additionally we stand against the mandatory detention of asylum seekers. When people enter this country seeking asylum, they have not crossed the border illegally, they have not committed a crime. They are fleeing from persecution in their home land, yet once they arrive here, they are detained sometimes for years while they wait for a judge to settle their case. 

Separation of children from their parents is not a family value. It is harmful to children, no matter the race, ethnicity, age or country of origin. The immediate impacts are very clear—children crying, anxiety setting in, fear taking its toll. But the long-term impacts are even worse—the possibility that the separation will be permanent due to parents not being able to find their children in the morass of immigration procedures, the loss of family connectedness, the potential for children to end up in situations worse than what they were fleeing from, and more.

Arizona Faith Network joins in the nationwide call from faith leaders and others for this administration to end the policy of family separation NOW. Yes, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does have discretion in how they will prosecute and treat the families of people crossing the border without proper documentation! This is not a partisan issue, it is an issue of basic human rights and the rights of children. This senseless policy must end now.

For the LORD your God... executes justice for the orphan and widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.  You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. –Deuteronomy 10:17-19 (NRSV)

Faith communities and people of good will across the country are standing ready to help. Or, if migrants must be detained, the administration should operate with some semblance of humanity like its predecessors and re-open family detention centers. The voices against the separation of children from their families will not be silenced until the mistreatment of migrant children ends. There are better options. We hold better values. We urge people of faith across this nation to continue to speak out, stand up and show your support for migrants regardless of the nation of origin. Who knows except the next great one for the ages may be among them?

And what is [the matter] with you that you fight not in the cause of Allah and [for] the oppressed among men, women, and children who say, "Our Lord, take us out of this city of oppressive people and appoint for us from Yourself a protector and appoint for us from Yourself a helper?" An-Nisa, Verse 75

On the passing of Dr. James Hal Cone

JamesCone_UnionHeadshots.jpg

James H. Cone, 79, Founder of Black Liberation Theology, Dies

(excerpted from the Union Theological Seminary website © 2018 Union Theological Seminary, All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.)

NEW YORK – Rev. Dr. James Hal Cone, renowned founder of Black Liberation Theology, award-winning author and Bill & Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, died today. He was 79.
...
Cone is best known as the father of black liberation theology. In his ground-breaking works, Black Theology & Black Power (1969); A Black Theology of Liberation (1970); and God of the Oppressed(1975), Cone upended the theological establishment with his vigorous articulation of God’s radical identification with black people in the United States. His eloquent portrayal of Christ’s blackness shattered dominant white theological paradigms, and ignited a wave of subsequent American liberation theologies.
...

Read the whole tribute at Union Theological Seminary: In Memoriam: Dr. James Hal Cone

Arizona Faith Network stands in solemn solidarity with the family, friends and colleagues around the world in the passing of Dr. James Hal Cone. The video below is an excerpt of a message on his passing from one of his students, Dr. Warren H. Stewart, Sr. of First Institutional Baptist Church, Phoenix.

Supporting Arizona's Students as We Stand in Solidarity With School Staff

In the midst of an educational crisis in our state, Arizona Faith Network is supporting Arizona’s students as we stand in solidarity with school staff. Arizona’s children deserve a safe, nurturing school environment where they can be free to learn, play and grow.

Please join us at a clergy press conference on Wednesday, April 25 at 12 noon at the State Capitol, Rose Garden to pray and speak out on behalf of the safety, nourishment and education of Arizona’s children. There will be non-partisan statements and a time of prayer by clergy in support of a permanent funding solution to public education in Arizona. We support our students, families, teachers and school staff in publicly-funded schools, and we support the role of public education in democracy.

For too long, Arizona’s teachers and school support staff have been asked to provide a positive and nurturing learning environment without sufficient resources. AFN stands in solidarity with school employees in calling for adequate compensation. We stand ready to help our faith communities and constituents participate in the efforts to ensure Arizona’s children are tutored, fed and have a safe place to go during school hours in the event of a teacher and school employee walkout.  

Although we understand the complexity of the issue, given that each school district will customize their response, we want to alert our constituencies across the state of the need to be ready to help. The daily routines of parents and children are going to be shifted if a walkout takes place.  And for some families, it may be very difficult.  Those who care about Arizona’s families will be asked to help, particularly in districts with high percentages of students on free and reduced price lunch.

AFN is working with various stakeholders to strategize on how we care for Arizona’s children in the event of a long-term walkout. Many houses of worship have already stepped up to provide meals, child care, activities and transportation support. Partnerships between school districts, youth serving organizations, churches, businesses and government agencies are developing to ensure that students continue to have the support they need and that parents have a place to take their children. If your house of worship is involved or is looking for ways to get involved, please let us know by sending us an email to contactus@azfaithnetwork.org.

Message on Criminal Legal Reform

As part of AFN's March 2018 "Faith, Equity & Inclusion in an Age of Mass Incarceration" event (Session III of the The Monsignor Edward Ryle Faith, Equity & Inclusion Event Series), the statement below has been released and we encourage people of faith to add their voices to this call and to advocate for a "fundamental transformation of mindset about the criminal legal system." 

(CLICK HERE TO ADD YOUR VOICE TO THIS MESSAGE)

The American criminal legal system poses a major challenge to Faith leaders, and in response, several national church and religious bodies have adopted policy statements urging significant reforms. For example, one such policy statement adopted by The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on August 17, 2013, describes the current system’s serious deficiencies and, drawing from the biblical witness to God’s wondrously rich forms of love and justice, the Statement calls on people of faith with a “holy yearning” to address the need for change in the public mindset and the need for dramatic reforms in policies and practices.

The good news is that a bipartisan movement is growing to revise major inequities and imbalances in the criminal legal system, and to substantially reduce the needlessly long and expensive sentences for many prisoners, especially non-violent offenders. Leaders in the faith community now have an opportunity to band together in a cooperative effort to push policy makers for a comprehensive reevaluation of sentencing inequities. We also need to reevaluate how the corrections system works after conviction, including the use of private prisons, poor medical and mental health care, excessive use of solitary confinement, scarce rehabilitation and community reentry programs, and restoring voting rights for those who have completed their prison sentences.

The Arizona Faith Network calls upon all people of faith, regardless of denominational or faith community distinctions, to step forward to speak and act, prophetically and courageously. So many cries of suffering and despair emerge from inequitable sentences and correctional policies — from victims, the incarcerated, their families, communities, those wrongly convicted, those who work in the system — and have not been heard.

Religious and faith communities should draw upon the wisdom of their divine powers, holy texts, and continuous teachings for inspiration in the realm of promoting healing and transformative justice practices.

In assessing the current system, faith leaders recognize many in the system who serve their professional vocations with competent and humane performance. Yet, there are serious deficiencies. An underlying punitive mindset, budgetary con­straints, and persistent inequalities based on race and class frequently challenge its basic principles and impose significant costs on all involved in the system, and on society as a whole. We support positive trends for reform such as greater emphasis on victims’ rights and needs, emphasis on restorative justice instead of retribution, community-based alternatives to incarceration, legislation that reduces sentences for certain offenses, the emergence of specialized courts, and the growing emphasis on reentry. These efforts should be funded and supported adequately.

Because mass incarceration causes significant harms, both personal and social, we strongly urge those who make and administer correctional policies to take all appropriate measures to limit the use of incarceration as a sanction for criminal offenses. Toward that end there are three specific paths: pursue alternatives to incarceration, reform sentencing laws and policies, and closely scrutinize national drug policy.

Four other imperatives also require vigorous action from policy makers: the criminal legal system must acknowledge the disparities and address the implicit and explicit racism that persists within; it must recognize the special needs of juvenile offenders; it must stop the privatization of prison facilities; and finally, it must foster the full reintegration of ex-offenders into the community including restoration of voting rights.

A fundamental transformation of mindset about the criminal legal system is required that challenges the logic equating more punitive measures with more just ones. Individuals must be held accountable, but every person in the criminal legal system deserves to be seen and treated as a member of society, with inherent worth and dignity, and worthy of appropriate and compassionate response.

Arizona Faith Network

Released at “Faith, Equity & Inclusion in an age of Mass Incarceration”
Thursday, 22 March 2018.

(CLICK HERE TO ADD YOUR VOICE TO THIS MESSAGE)

In Solidarity and Love, We Stand Together Against Hate

Arizona Faith Network stands in solidarity with the Islamic Community Center of Tempe (Mosque), the Arizona Council of Imams, our Muslim brothers and sisters and all people who promote interreligious harmony in condemning the vile acts perpetrated against the Mosque. On March 4, two women trespassed with three children into the mosque and proceeded to vandalize property. They videoed themselves and the children while destroying property, and they encouraged the children to use racist, Islamophobic language. They then applauded the children for their actions. We applaud Tempe Police for taking action in arresting the perpetrators on charges of felony third degree burglary.

Burglary? Yes, and rightfully so. Yet this type of behavior has much deeper ethical, spiritual and generational ramifications. We are especially appalled by the exposure of children to these contemptible acts, which is inexcusable. We pray that the effects of such hate-mongering by these two adults will not take form in the minds of these children and that they will learn to love despite what they have seen. We call for an end to the divisiveness, hatred and ignorance that such acts represent. We pray that the consequences these women face will teach them the error of their ways. We pray that justice will be swift and restorative, teaching them to “love thy neighbor” and persuading them and others to prevent such acts in the future.

As people of faith uniting to create positive change for the common good, AFN sees no place for hatred, division or criminal acts against any human being, especially not based on race, ethnicity, age, religious affiliation, ability, sexual orientation, natural origin or other protected status.

Every human being deserves to be treated with dignity and with respect for their right to worship as they choose. We call on people of faith across this great state to pray, search their sacred writings and speak up for divine love, righteousness and humane treatment of all people.

Graciously,
Jannah Scott, Interim Executive Director
Arizona Faith Network

Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions. Proverbs 10:12
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

Join together for Love and Coffee this Saturday, March 17 @ 10:30 AM in support of healing for the community. Tempe Interfaith Fellowship members and other supporters will gather with our friends at the Islamic Community Center of Tempe, 131 E 6th St. Tempe.

The links below show you the Love and Coffee event and an article about the vandalism.

https://www.facebook.com/events/2089170028038910/

https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/tempe-breaking/2018/03/15/tempe-police-arrest-tahnee-gonzales-elizabeth-dauenhauer-tempe-mosque-incident/430481002/

[click here for a PDF version of this statement]

Follow us on Facebook @arizonafaithnetwork
Visit our website at www.azfaithnetwork.org
Email us at contactus@azfaithnetwork.org

Faiths' Response to Racism

(CLICK HERE TO ADD YOUR VOICE TO THIS MESSAGE)

As a foundation to AFN's "Faith, Equity & Inclusion" event series, the Theological Dialogue Commission developed the following statement, Faiths’ Response to Racism.  The statement speaks to our need to:

  • Understand personal and institutional manifestations of racism

  • Recognize personal complicity in racist behaviors

  • Understand what our own and other faith traditions say about racism

  • Acknowledge the many root causes of racism

  • Be willing to decry the micro-aggressions and oppressions that are a result of racist mindsets

  • Speak prophetically from our faith traditions about both personal and institutional racism and

  • Find ways to work on reconciling and recompensing the generations of injustice that have been meted out due to racism

We encourage people of faith to add their voices to this call and to understand that racism and its concomitant ills are antithetical to all faiths and that a change of mindsets about the depth, proliferation and impact of this issue in American society must be accomplished.

FAITHS' RESPONSE TO RACISM

Racism is antithetical to our Faith Traditions’ sacred texts and historic teachings. The founder of Bahá’í, Bahá’u’lláh, said, “Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul…” [Sobhani, 18].

The following definition of racism incorporates the themes found in many faith and secular organizations’ definitions. “Racism involves social power and prejudice, the capacity to make and enforce decisions (power) that is disproportionately and/or unfairly distributed. Racism can involve unequal access to such resources as money, education, information, etc. In the United States, racism can best be understood as a system with personal/individual and institutional manifestations. Racism is a system which differentiates between whites and people of color. Because the social systems and institutions in this country are controlled by whites, whites have the social power to make and enforce decisions and greater access to resources” [National Church Dialogue on Anti-Racism]. For this document, AFN is focused on racism in the United States of America, while we recognize that it can be found across the globe and throughout human history. We acknowledge that racism affects all people of color: African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinx communities, Asian Americans, Native Hawai’ian, Pacific Islander, and Middle-eastern Americans. We recognize that we as individuals and as faith communities have been complicit with white supremacy in racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim behaviors. We understand that racism assigns states of experience as racial characteristics. For example, poverty may be considered the result of “laziness,” rather than understanding that poverty is one form of oppression caused by racism. “If someone is denied access to education, [Moore says this mindset reasons] perhaps it is because of his or her work ethic or ability to work with others” [Moore, 2]. We confess the fact that racism is both a historical fact of American life and an on-going reality in our society. The 300+ years of enslavement of black peoples, the enslavement and genocide of indigenous peoples and the ongoing systemic oppression that can be traced to both atrocities; all occurred with complicity - conscious or unconscious - from many of the white Christian churches in the past. We decry the subtle oppressions of lack of resources, education and voice in the public square and we mourn the physical brutality and violence many persons of color continue to experience - all occurring with complicity - conscious or unconscious - from many of faith communities in the present - in every state of our not-quite union.

Nonetheless, our Faiths share values and ways that speak about the Divine that emphasize our common humanity, dignity, and worth. The Abrahamic Traditions share the text, Genesis 1: 26-27, “And God created the human in his image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them” [Alter, 18-9]. Abrahamic faith traditions understand that there is something that reflects the Divine One in every person. “Because people are created in God’s image, all human life has special value” [Telushkin, 261]. The founder of Quakerism, George Fox, said, “There is that of God in everyone.” The Sanskrit word Namaste,means “the Divine in me acknowledges and greets the Divine in you.” The Sikh Tradition states explicitly, “The Timeless One doesn’t approve of separation or disruption; He doesn’t recognize any distance; He believes only in love and appreciates selfless service…God resides in all, therefore every individual is linked to the other by the ties of mutual co-operation and co-existence. We are tied with other with an invisible string is this in the hands of God ‘In all selves art Thou abiding. In Thee are all sharers; to none dost Thou appear alien’ (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, 97)” [Alag, 21-22].  “Allah tells us in the Glorious Qur’an that the diversity of life, the various languages and colors of human beings, are signs of His Majesty. These are all lessons for us to learn about humility, equality and appreciation of differences. Islam is against all forms of racism and discrimination based on both the revelation and reasoning.  Allah said in the Quran, ‘O people, We have created you male and female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. Verily, the most noble of you to Allah is the most righteous of you. Verily, Allah is knowing and aware.’ Quran (49:13)” [Faja, 2/27/18]. And every faith tradition has a form of what in the U.S we call the Golden Rule.  In contrast, “Racism ascribes false values to human difference. Therefore, it is inherently sinful. The true evil of racism gives license to the use of power to dominate others” [The Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, 1].

Most of the world’s religions arose in geographies where skin colors of those indigenous peoples were not white. The distinctives that are drawn between people in our sacred texts are religious and moral, not ethnic nor racial. There are passages that speak of God intervening on behalf of all peoples: Amos 9:7, Isaiah 2:3-4, Jonah 4:10-11, Zechariah 8:20-22, Colossians 3:9-11, Romans 10:11-13, Qur’an Sura 17:70, see also, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, 469). Telushkin calls the Amos passage cited above, “what may well have been the first explicit repudiation of racism in any literature” [Teluskin, 269].

Therefore, the issue in the early texts of the Jewish faith, Islam or Christianity is how we treat each other. There are over 100 admonitions to welcome the stranger; often with the reminder “You were strangers once yourself.” Yet in human history and in U.S. society today, we have not welcomed the “other” and have excluded and persecuted the “other. Christian ethicists Stassen and Gushee use one definition of racism as an issue of justice and reconciliation. They discuss racism as a source of violence and death, explicit hate crimes, disproportionate incarceration rates and death sentences, lower life expectancy, disproportionate depression and lack of self-worth, lower educational rates, environmental degradation in neighborhoods where persons of color reside, economic disparities, and all forms of power imbalances. Our sacred texts speak to how painful it is to be the stranger, the other, the one who is marginalized, oppressed, and victimized. These texts also define the responsibilities of those with power in society. Most of injustices are linked - cause and effect and cause - to the exclusion from community. Jewish ethicist, Joseph Telushkin cites Leviticus 24:22, “You shall have one law for the alien and for the citizen: for I am the Lord your God” and the Talmud’s formalized principle of equality, “…’the law must treat you all equally’ ( Ketubot 33a)” [Telushkin, 406]. “Allah said in the Quran, ‘Among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Verily, in that are signs for people of knowledge.’ Qur’an (30:22).” Abu Nadrah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said in the final days of the Pilgrimage: ‘O people, your Lord is one and your father Adam is one. There is no favor of an Arab over a foreigner, nor a foreigner over an Arab, and neither white skin over black skin, nor black skin over white skin, except by righteousness. Have I not delivered the message?’ (Musnad of Imam Ahmad) [Faja, 2/27/18].

These exclusionary justice issues are categorically addressed within the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 19 and Isaiah 58 are but two examples) and within the Qur’an (Sura 5:32, 17:70, and 49:13). For Christians, exclusionary injustice is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and to our record of Christ’s own behavior among us. He healed and taught Romans and Phoenicians. His ministry took him to Tyre, Sidon and Perea. The appearance of the Spirit of God in Acts 2 is multilingual and multinational (Acts 1:4; 2:1-13). These concepts of equality and inclusion are developed in the writings of Paul and James in the Christian Bible (Eph. 2:11-22, Col. 3:11, Galatians 3:26-28, James 2:1-13, for example).     

Some faiths such as Sikhism and Bahá’í have explicitly addressed racism within their sacred texts because these sacred texts are reacting to events and society where race was and is a social construct in that culture at the time the texts were composed after the C17th.  For example, elimination of prejudice of all kinds is a stated principle of the Bahá’í Faith. 

Yet we acknowledge that there are many causes of racism: fear of the other; the sociological concept of tribalism; fear of loss of control/power; the role of human need for control, acceptance, and security.  In the global north, racism has an additional element; people have been demonized by an artifact of conflating the Germanic-based words for that which enables sight, the least intense color tonality, and the lowest density of melatonin in the skin. For over 1000 years, that has led to “light” meaning good and “dark” meaning bad in the gestalt of Northern European influenced cultures. This resulted in the demonization and therefore, persecution of persons of color. The use of language remains an on-going tool of racism.

In addition, one of the on-going injustices of racism is that historical wrongs have been inadequately addressed, written out of our histories, and forgotten (deliberately or through neglect and inattention or lack of concern). “Failure to face the wrongs of the past almost always signals a lack of readiness to live in justice and yes, reconciliation, today” [Stassen, 399].   Two values shared by all faith traditions are honor and truth. They compel us to acknowledge that in the late C19th all the way into the 1960s Northern Hemisphere science was usurped by persons endeavoring to support racism through dubious scientific practice [Offit, 97ff]. Worse, some persons of faith adopted these reports because they supported their own preconceived prejudices. During Jim Crow, KKK members were mainly “church people.” This same tendency to look for things that support our own vested interests have led some people of faith to misuse their own sacred texts, taking statements out of context, reading into scriptures rather than applying scripture.  The Greek word ethnos” “living in a different area,” was translated “race”. This had political and economic overtones and was pulled out of context by persons seeking to justify slavery and racial oppression; including Nazi Germany. Under the Nazis (a shortened form of nationalsozialist or “national” socialist), 6 million Jews were murdered based on the Nazi Party’s stated belief that Jews were an “inferior ‘race’” along with 3 million others considered “inferior.” We reject the construct of white supremacy.

The great tragedy today is that many faith traditions continue to be complicit in the structures that create, embed, permit, and perpetuate societal racism. In our North American highly individualistic culture, many congregations face an additional barrier to reconciliation, and thus a continuance of institutional racism. Americans within faith traditions that have a concept of “sin” tend to focus on “my sin” and how “I should turn back to God.”  “Salvation for American Christians is a transaction between two individuals - themselves and God. This over-simplification of sin does not make sense of systemic, corporate evil, brokenness, and social maladies” (italics are in the original) [Moore, 2].   Yet, Biblically, there is also a strong emphasis on the communal aspect of sin. In the past 100 years, this emphasis has come to be called social sin in Roman Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox writings and collective or corporate sin in other Mainline and Evangelical documents. Secular philosophers name this collective oppressive behavior “Structural Oppression.” The corporate group that we participate in and are responsible for includes our families, our congregation, our local governments, our national government, and our society’s very gestalt. The Catholic Church has a very clear definition of social sin,  “The sinfulness of society into which a person is born. Its premise is that modern socialization and collectivization have immersed everyone in other people's values and moral actions to an unprecedented degree.” All members of a society are complicit in its institutional injustices. “Torah committed Israel to a life of society free of the inequality and exploitation that characterized its own existence in the Egyptian land of bondage. Whenever Israel tolerated the oppression of the poor, of orphans, widows and immigrants, the prophets accused the people of collective infidelity to God. To know God was to do justice (Amos, Jeremiah, Isaiah). Jesus himself included in his mission the release of captives and the liberation of the oppressed (Luke 4.18–19)….Sin has both a personal and a social dimension; and the two are interrelated…social sin refers to institutionalized injustice” [New Catholic Encyclopedia]. “In today’s racialized America, to do nothing is to be complicit with evil. A church committed to anything less than the full and just protection of the image of God in everyone equally, fails to be the church of Jesus Christ” [Theological Declaration…, 3]. We reject the idea that as individuals we have no responsibility for the structural and institutional behaviors of the society in which we live.

However, our faith traditions have also been the source of anti-racism work. Our faiths ask us to look at the intersection of religion and politics and ask who has the power to impose.  Throughout history, this intersection has not been good. The Story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis is about people trying to gain power through an attempt to reach the heavens, rather than caring for each other. Our Abrahamic faith traditions understand this to be a form of idol worship. Instead, our faiths call us to greater unity. “Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated: The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, ‘God does not look at your figures, nor at your attire but He looks at your hearts and accomplishments’ (Sahih Muslim)” [Faja, 2/27/18]. When Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”(Matthew 22:37-40; NRSV), he was quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, “and you shall love the Lord your Gd with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might,”  and Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor [fellow] as yourself, I am Gd” (TANAKH). The latter verse has been called the “major principle of the Torah” [Rabbi Akiva, Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim, 9:4]. The Unity Declaration on Racism and Poverty has used the Theological Declaration of Barmen (1934), the German Evangelical Church’s resistance to anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany, as a model of corporate congregational responsibility and resistance to racism. The Roman Catholic Church has stated, “we are called to constantly examine our own hearts and consciences for how we might contribute to or break down racial divisions, intolerance, and discrimination” [Department of Justice…, 1].

Many congregations across our Faith Traditions express the breadth of humanity through their diverse cultures. “Islam is a universal religion for all people and for all times. Muslims come from all background and continents. In the heart of a Muslim, there is no place for racism and arrogance” [Faja, 2/27/18]. Many of the Civil Rights Movement leaders and participants were clergy and laity from across Faith Traditions: ecumenically and interfaith. Martin Luther King’s vision of the Beloved Community has taken on a renewed resonance in response to white supremacy’s emergence from the shadows and tacit support from those in political power. “The Beloved Community is the body within which all people can grow to love God and love the image of God that we find in our neighbors, in ourselves, and in creation. It provides a positive, theologically and biblically based ideal that orients the work of racial healing, reconciliation and justice” [Becoming the Beloved Community…, 2]. In 2006, Mormon Church President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke to Church leaders and specifically addressed racism with these words: "Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.  . . . [T]here is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in it" [Hinckley, 58]. The Bahá’i have a number of national and local programs geared towards healing racism using such diverse methods as the arts, including a national Race Unity Day observed since 1957. The ecumenical organization, The YWCA, has a 2017 initiative “Stand against Racism.”

“Paul Tillich states, ‘The intrinsic claim in everything is that it cannot be violated with violating the violator.’ The oppressor is eventually as destroyed by his acts as is the oppressed. The implication of this fact is that racism is every single person’s problem” [The Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, 1].

The Human Genome Project has demonstrated that biologically, we physiologically really are all brothers and sisters descended from one common ancestress; what our sacred texts have already told us. “It is significant that the rise of racist ideologies in nineteenth-century Europe was based on the repudiation of the biblical account of creation and the theory that races have separate origins without a common ancestor” [Telushkin, 262]. “Living the essence of our faith means respecting diversity—cultural, social, religious and political. God identifies learning from one another as the primary goal of diversity (Quran 49:13).” [Unal].

Racism is antithetical to our Faith Traditions’ sacred texts and historic teachings.  The English word imitate comes from the Latin imitat-imitari ‘copy’; which is related to imago ‘image’. Our shared understanding of the Divine is of one who is relational and invites us to be relational, too. In the Christian tradition, this is exemplified by Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (NRSV). But the elimination of racism should not be equated with assimilation or homogenization; rather with unity. Orin Lyons of the Onondaga Indigenous People of New York, speaking at an event at the Heard Museum, said, the more appropriate understanding of the American dream is not a melting pot but a mosaic, where every piece retains its own unique beauty and the whole picture is beautiful, too. “Racism cannot be addressed until those of us who benefit from it, knowingly and unwittingly alike, acknowledge our privilege and own our responsibility to work toward surrendering it” [Horan, 2]. Addressing racism is a task of faith and of relationship. “It also requires conversation, learning, sharing stories, establishing friendships and becoming allies” [Stassen, 401]. 
 

Reflection Questions:

When you were growing up, when did you first become aware that such a thing as racism/prejudice/bigotry existed [YWCA, Stand Against Racism]?

How are you and your faith community engaging with issues of racism and white privilege? What is the best thing you have done so far [Queries of the InterMountain Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends]?

References

Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row, & Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). Harper’s Bible dictionary (1st ed.) (807–808). San Francisco: Harper & Row.

https://ag.org/Beliefs/Topics-Index/Racism (Assemblies of God)

Ahamed, Syed Vickar, translator. The English Translation of the Message of the Quran. (Lombard: Book of Signs Foundation) 2006.

Alag, Sarup Singh. Some Universal Sayings from Sri Guru Granth Sahib. (India: Alag Shabad Yug Trust) 35.

Alter, Robert B. The Five Books of Moses; A Translation with Commentary (NY: W. W. Norton)  2008.   

The Black Theology Project www.btpbase.org

“Becoming the Beloved Community Where You Are.” www.episcopalchurch.org/reconciliation 

The Council of National Black Churches www.thecnbc.org

www.elca.org/Our-Work/Publicly-Engaged-Church/Racial-Justice-Ministries (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)

http://www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Race-Ethnicity-and-Culture

The Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. An Anti-Racism Theological Statement. Diocesan Anti-Racism Committee. Phoenix, July 2013.

www.episcopalchurch.org/racial-reconciliation (Episcopal Church)

Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development. Office of Domestic Social Development, the Roman Catholic Church. Racism: Confronting the Poison in our Common Home. (Washington: #csmg2016) January 2016.

Faja, Imam Didmar. email dated Feb 27, 2018.

Ferguson, Sinclair B., David F. Wright, and J. I. Packer. New Dictionary of Theology, (Downers Grove, IVP) 1988.

Grenz, Stanley J. Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans) 1994.

Hinckley, Gordon B. “The Need for Greater Kindness,” Ensign, May 2006, 58.

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.

Horan, Daniel P. “Examining Our Social Sins” in www.americamagasine.org/issue/examining-our-social-sins February 23, 2015.   

Islamic Community Center of Tempe. The Basics of Islam at a Glance, (Tempe) 2010.

Maimonides, Moses. The Guide for the Perplexed. (1194CE). Translated from the Arabic by M. Friedlander. (New York: Dover) 1956. I-VI, 19.

http://mennoniteusa.org/what-we-do/undoing-racism/  (Mennonite Church)

Moore, R. York, www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2016/race-in-america-corporate-repentance-and-cross-we-collectiv.hmt

“National Church Dialogue on Anti-Racism” in Province I Convocation of the Episcopal Church. Racial Justice: How do we get there from here? 2001

New Catholic Encyclopedia, COPYRIGHT 2003 The Gale Group Inc. http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/social-sin

https://oca.org/news/headline-news/assembly-of-bishops-responds-to-racist-violence-in-charlottesville-va  (Orthodox Church in America)

Offit, Paul A. MD. Pandora’s Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong (New York: National Geographic) 2017.

https://facing-racism.pcusa.org/  (Presbyterian Church in the USA)

http://reconciliationministry.org/who-we-are-the-inititative/  (Disciples of Christ)

www.reformjudaism.org/jewish-views-civil-rights   

Sobhani, Mouhebat. Bahá’i: Teachings for a New World Order (New York: Waldorf) 1992.

Stassen, Glenn H. and David P. Gushee. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (Downers Grove: IVP) 2003.

TANAKH: The New translation of the HOLY SCRIPTURES According to the Traditional Hebrew Text. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society) 1985.

Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph.  A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume. 2: Love Your Neighbor As Yourself (New York: Bell Tower) 2009.

THEOLOGICAL DECLARATION ON CHRISTIAN FAITH AND WHITE SUPREMACY, https://www.redletterchristians.org/theological-declaration-on-christian-faith-white-supremacy/

Unal, Ali. The Qur’an with Annotated Interpretation in Modern English (Somerset: Tughra Books) 2008.

Unity Declaration on Racism and Poverty Letter to the United States Congress, January 31, 2018.  http://bread.org/sites/default/files/downloads/circle-of-protection-unity-statement.pdf

http://www.ucc.org/justice_racism (United Church of Christ)

http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/what-the-church-says-racism (United Methodist Church)

http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/racism/index.cfm (US Council of Catholic Bishops)

https://www.uua.org/action/statements/toward-anti-racist-unitarian-universalist-association (Unitarian Universalist)

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AFN Statement on the passing of Thomas Monson, President of the Mormon Church

It is with heartfelt sincerity that AFN extends its condolences to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on the passing of President Thomas S. Monson. Among many, President Monson did a great deal to guide the church through these times.

We would like to honor President Monson for his promotion of interfaith humanitarian causes with Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups supporting homeless shelters, food banks, nursing homes and disaster relief efforts in the United States and abroad. His work in increasing access to online church records, including his presiding over the church’s digitalization of the Freedman Bank records, has opened a treasure trove of over a century of information of American history at one of its most turbulent times --on the status and holdings of African Americans in the aftermath of the abolition of slavery. 

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Monson family, the Quorum of the Twelve, Church and its people all over the world.

Statement from the Arizona Faith Network regarding the decision by President Trump to terminate the DACA Program

September 6, 2017

As partners in faith, the members of the Arizona Faith Network wish to express our grave concern that the decision on the part of President Trump to terminate the DACA program is a cause of stress and suffering for thousands of young men and women who were brought to the United States by their parents and, in many cases, have known no other nation as their home.  

Regardless of the complex immigration issues that are legitimately in need of comprehensive reform, the possibility that those who have been covered by the DACA program could be deported and families torn apart is morally repugnant.  

We challenge the Legislative and Executive branches of our Federal Government to address the underlying issues with a positive goal of regularizing the status of those who have long been residents in the United States, is respectful of protecting families and will treat with compassion those who cannot be held culpable for the legality of the decision that led to them reside in the United States of America.

On behalf of the Arizona Faith Network,

Rev. Michael L. Diskin

President

AFN Statement on Hurricane Harvey

The Arizona Faith Network sends our heart-filled prayers and support to all those who are facing loss and hardship following the devastating damage brought on by Hurricane Harvey. We ask that leaders of federal, state, and local governments do all they can to address the immediate and long term needs of children, older adults, the homeless, refugees, the impacted and the disabled. Know that you are in our thoughts and prayers as we move through these next days, weeks and years of hurricane response and recovery. May we all do all we can as we learn how those from afar can help.